photo & text by nacrowe
what's interesting about the narrative of iconic professional skateboarder TONY HAWK's career is that it parallels the story of SKATEBOARDING in general. his success and notoriety is the result of a burgeoning, bubbling subculture finding its moment in the media imagination and spotlight, when corporate sponsors and the sporting world effectively caught up. sort of.
and it is that tension between the SELF-DEFINING, DO-IT-YOURSELF PUNK ROCK ethos of an underground culture with the demands of corporate AMERICA in a pre-internet age that make the autobiography HAWK: OCCUPATION: SKATEBOARDER (HARPERCOLLINS, 2000) such a compelling read. in essence the books central claim is that SKATEBOARDING is an ACTIVITY and LIFESTYLE pursuit that has no inherent need for competitions or external judgement. it is its own PURPOSE and needs no outside validation. however, what initially differentiated HAWK and his crew in the original POWELL & PERALTA sponsored BONES BRIGADE (i.e. STEVE CABALLERO, MIKE MCGILL, TOMMY GUERRERO, RODNEY MULLEN and LANCE MOUNTAIN) was their domination of the nascent vert and freestyle competitions of the 1980s. HAWK's ability to master technical tricks and apply a freestyle aesthetic to vert skating and expand its lexicon of tricks was his road to notoriety. this is not to say that he was the most innovative or consequential skater (my vote would be MARK GONZALEZ or RODNEY MULLEN), but he was among the most popular.
the fact that HAWK was able to bridge the cultural divide between the world of BIG BROTHER, TRANSWOLD and THRASHER with that of ESPN is probably the GIFT/CURSE of his life. the former publications have a vested interest in the continued promotion of the SELF-DETERMINING, SELF-PERPETUATING and SELF-MADE aspects of the SKATEBOARDING subculture. cable sports networks are interested in selling beer commercials, which means they have no interest in the culture of SKATEBOARDING and every incentive to promote nonexistent rivalries and hold up individual personalities in order to fulfill their lucrative agenda. HAWK is about the subculture and its SELF-MADE ethos, but he is also undoubtedly a byproduct of the competition circuit (which is anathema to such values). he also is the face of SKATEBOARDING in the popular mindset and has garnered marketshare that has undoubtedly helped popularize the sport and allowed opportunities for countless skater-owned companies to flourish.
its an interesting dilemma and something i found quite compelling to parse through and consider in his autobiography. learning about how the culture concurrently shifted ECONOMICALLY and STYLISTICALLY based on outside ENVIRONMENTAL pressures was interesting as well. much less interesting were the exploits of his travels, his fascination with meeting DONALD TRUMP (way back in the day) and the ups and downs of his personal relationships.
nearly 20 years later we are still very much living in an ecosystem influenced by the BIRDMAN, as well as MATT HOFFMAN and KELLY SLATER respectively. whether or not that sense of purity remains with all that inevitable exposure is a matter of opinion. in the age of social media omnipresence this is probably all a mute point anyway. all compelling to consider.